Stay at home but keep your passion for travel going. This is the message from Tripathome, a video released by Kerala Tourism on April 30 amid the COVID-19 lockdown. “We are asking travellers to share a ‘trip of their life’ experience on our social media,” says Rani George, Secretary, Kerala Tourism
This year was supposed to be a dream year for tourism in Kerala. In 2019, the State saw its sharpest spike in tourist arrivals, a 17.2 % rise since 1996, with 1.96 crore travellers visiting.
But now the industry, which marketed Kerala’s tourism potential and earned global recognition as God’s Own Country, is staring at the reality of having to live with the Coronavirus. With Kerala being the bellwether for Indian tourism, all eyes are focusSed on how the State opens up for travel.
“Right now we are in a wait-and-watch mode but are chalking out an action plan. If things improve, then we may begin marketing by July,” says Rani. The Association of Tourism and Trade Organisation of India (ATTOI) has pitched its first proposal Kerala Kanna, which suggests revival through regional and local tourism.
Former president of ATTOI, Anish Kumar PK, who is also CEO, The Travel Planner, is optimistic. “Kerala has managed the situation well and we are hoping that we will soon be Coronavirus free. In that case, people will get the confidence to travel. We don’t see international travel starting till the end of the year. Interstate travel too will take time, but travel within Kerala will be possible.”
Under this scheme, around 80 hotels have come together to propose the opening of high-end boutique hotels and resorts to local tourists, affording them experiences that were tailor-made for the international guest.
“The tariff for a room per night was ₹10,000 and above. These will be available at discounted rates between 30% and 50 %. This kind of high-priced leisure travel was outside the realm of the local traveller. This will allow inflow of cash required to maintain the hotel’s staff and property and a fabulous experience for the guest,” says Anish, adding that the proposal is for the Malayali and the details are on their website Malayaliyathra.com. He clarifies that travel will begin only after all clearances are in place and that the hotels will follow the prescribed health guidelines.
“It can be the first step in travel and hospitality post COVID-19,” says Anish who believes that this scheme can be opened up to other states once inter-State travel is allowed. He also feels that other states will use this template when they reopen.
Holidaying in Kerala
Rani too agrees that “holidays in Kerala” will kick off first followed by domestic travelling. Next will be the business traveller is her guess.
Pradeep Murthy, director, Muddy Boots, an adventure travel company and part of the Keralam Kanam consortium, makes a pitch for adventure travel as a possible option for safe and fun experience post COVID-19. “Malayalis haven’t seen their own State. And this is true of people from all states. The key here has to be affordability. It has to be quick, short and cost-effective,” he says pointing out that the crisis affords Kerala Tourism a chance to reposition itself as an adventure tourism destination.
As one of the approved Government of India Adventure Tour Operators, Pradeep says that adventure tourism is inherently self isolating and therefore in tune with self-distancing norms. “Kerala Tourism should pitch this, as it is the only State in India to mandate adventure tourism, having compulsory regulations regarding the activities.”
Some of the adventure activities he offers are zipling, Nature trek, bamboo rafting, kayaking, cycling and hiking, which he says would be new for the locals.
Goipnath Parayil, founder, The Blue Yonder and a champion of responsible tourism, says, “It makes a lot of sense to focus on domestic tourism. How many people in Kasargod have seen the backwaters? This is a great know-your-neighbourhood initiative.” He has formed resilientdestinations.com to tell stories of sustainable destinations as a response to the crisis.
“Post COVID-19 travel and hospitality enterprises should promote transformational, conscious and responsible tourism. We can re-purpose our tools like how our hotel rooms supported the State during the crisis by opening for quarantine,” says Gopi.
Though Sejoe Jose, CEO of Marvel Tours and president IATO (Indian Association of Tour Operators) Kerala Chapter, says, “we have fallen off a cliff, there is no billing, no enquiries,” but soon perks up to elaborate on some future plans, if all goes well. “We are coming up with packages keeping physical distancing in mind like a cycle tour, kayaking trip, birdwatching tour and stay with discounted rates. The other aspect is to help properties reduce their back office cost by handling it for them.” His company will work on behalf of other smaller tour operators to handle their correspondence, booking, cancellations etc.
Some of the hurdles that post COVID-19 travel may pose, guesses Jose, is the smooth flow of travel from one district to another and of simultaneous opening up of facilities for the holidayer. As example, he says, Thekkady may be open but boating or forest visits may be shut. “It could be that a hotel spa may not be permitted to operate.”
Jose shares a survey finding conducted by Virtuoso, a global luxury travel network, which suggests that high-end and senior citizens will begin travel only after a COVID-19 vaccine is found. Kerala’s backwater and cultural tourism have been popular among international high-end senior travellers. “So, with the inflow of our regular segment of guests stopped, it makes good sense that we promote our destinations to our people,” he says adding that their feedback on social media will create a market.